Incumbent Zavier Garcia, 39, was born in Hialeah Hospital and served as a city councilman from 2005-09 before becoming mayor in 2011. He runs his own advertising and marketing firm, ZMG Media, and has lived in Miami Springs for 15 years. Garcia has served on the city’s Code Enforcement Board, the Neighborhood Relations Committee for Miami International Airport through Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, and as a community liaison for both State Senator Rene Garcia and Representative Brian Avila. Garcia is married to Iliana and has three children — Zavier Jr., 14; Alexa-Renee, 10; and Addison-Lee, 4 — and his chocolate lab, Max, 12.
ZAVIER GARCIA’s positions
• Why he’s running for office: “I love to serve. I want to continue serving my community where I live and where my kids will hopefully continue to stay here and live for the rest of their lives. My wife and I plan on living here for the rest of our lives.”
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• The biggest issue facing the city: “I believe the continued improvement of our commercial tax base. That is the biggest issue facing the city because that is what increases the amount of money that comes into the city. Our residential tax base isn’t going to grow any more; it improves, but it doesn’t grow. Again, our commercial tax base so we can have the money to continue to maintain the quality of services.”
• The new aquatic center, and whether he’s in support of it: “Yes. Long overdue. The current pool is dilapidated. Unfortunately, what historically occurs in Miami Springs, not just with our pool but with our previous community center, is that we’ll repair it or we’ll improve it next year, what I feel was like a kicking-the-can-down-the-road issue because no one really wanted to take the big step of spending the money that it took to create a facility that is necessary or that the residents of Miami Springs could actually use that would accommodate the needs of the residents. So besides not wanting to spend the money, historically councils didn’t save money to put aside money knowing that at some point in time we’re going to have to do it. It was the mentality that the people who use it should pay for it, but really you end up paying for it when you do take out a loan or do something for the 20, 30 years for the loan, which is what’s occurring now with taking a loan out to pay for a pool that will be used for the next 40, 50, 60-plus years. But we actually have a plan to maintain the facility, so we don’t have to look at building a brand-new facility in another 30, 40 years like we had to do with this existing pool, which in my opinion is beyond dilapidated and does not meet the needs of our community.”
• Increasing the commercial tax base, specifically the Northwest 36th Street corridor: “The City of Miami Springs as of today has the highest commercial tax base of recent history — I wouldn’t go as far as recorded history because we cannot find the statistic that shows that we were ever higher. When I say commercial tax base, meaning commercial versus residential tax base, which is the number that gets talked about a lot because you’re locked in on property. You can’t develop anymore, so we have to continue to find ways to improve our commercial tax base and the bulk of that is on Northwest 36th Street. I’ll give you an example, EB Hotel. The EB Hotel in 2013 paid taxes of $24,000. After being reassessed for the new hotel that it is today, it is now paying $85,000 of taxes. We’re talking a $60,000 increase, and that’s because of the improvement to that building. Best Western was built on vacant land. Best Western paid taxes in 2013 of $7,000; 2014, $36,800. My point to that is you have the improvement of those areas. And I just gave you comparisons between 2013 and 2014. Those projects began maybe three years ago, before that, in 2010, 2011. Those property owners give me a lot of credit for it, they’ve given me testimonials, stating that I’m a big part of why they either A, chose to be in Miami Springs or that they decided to continue doing projects in Miami Springs because of how pro-business I was to them and helped them along in the process, which I feel was necessary to get them to build their buildings and invest here. Some folks have a concern with the amount of ‘For Sale’ or ‘For Rent’ signs on 36th Street that didn’t exist before; that was because the property owners never wanted to sell before. If you go to some of those, they’ll tell you that I approached them and I’ve been banging on their doors trying to convince them to please either improve your property or sell it. There’s been pressure on them from our code enforcement board, our code enforcement officers, to try to maintain the facilities because they’ve been a nuisance, dilapidated properties, and most of them have decided to say, OK, we’re now going to sell our properties. Just last night a new ‘For Sale’ sign was erected on 36th Street just next to Thai Rama and behind the downstairs property. It’s a building that’s been there for years and has now for the first time set up their first ‘For Sale’ sign. They see an interest in the area, an interest that I think this city council with myself as mayor has created the buzz to improve that area. And I give a lot of credit to our current city council for actively approaching property owners and businesses to come into Miami Springs.”
• On whether he’s satisfied with the progress being made at the golf course: “Yes. I’m very satisfied. Could it be better? Yes. But we’ve been asked to invest into the improvement of the golf course when we hired our new golf course director, Paul O’Dell. I promised that I would not stand in his way of what he felt he needed to improve the golf course. So what I did was say, what do you need? He told us and council, in my opinion, gave him exactly what he needed to do the things that he needed to get to the point where they’re at now, which is an improvement. Anyone that played the golf course three, four years ago compared to now has said it’s a major improvement from what it was before. We haven’t been able to get all of the golfers that we want to come here, but we definitely have an improvement and we’re heading in the right direction.”
• What priorities he puts on the expansion and improvement of the senior center: “I’d say it’s a priority. It definitely is. Where it falls in line, it’s one of the buildings that is equally as old as some others in the city and we have made improvements to it. We just finished a renovation and improvement of approximately $300,000 to that building and we hope to acquire grants to increase the number of meals that our seniors receive, which all coincides with the senior center. If the senior center was just a building, and that’s all we had to concentrate, then I’d say let’s focus just on finding money for the building. But there’s lots of different facets to the community center. We still have to figure out a way how to feed them, how to feed our seniors, how to brings services to our seniors, so it’s not just, hey, let’s erect a building and pop it up. But it is a high priority to get it done. Some would like to compare it to, why did we the pool before we did our senior center? Our senior center had funding to improve its facilities. I visit it almost on a monthly basis, if not bymonthly basis, to see how things were going there. And our seniors are happy with it. Do they want better? Yes. But the pool is something that will faciliate services for all residents, seniors included. So that’s, in my opinion, why council and why I decided to maybe do that first because seniors will take advantage of not only the pool but the building facilities that are there and could still use it while we say, OK, at least now we have a building that maybe they could use in the meantime while we are renovating or building a new senior center.”
• Why people should vote for him: “First and foremost, because of my love for the city and my passion to serve. I say secondly because of my experience. This will be finishing my 10th year somewhat involved in local government — elected eight years; I took a two-year term off — and I feel that I’ve done nothing but what’s in the best interests of the residents. I have to remind residents that I live here, too. There’s this perception that elected officials are doing things that are affecting the residents and, ‘How could you do that? Are you thinking of the residents?’ Yes, because I am a resident. My kids live here, I live here. My kids go to play at the parks here and participate in extracurricular activities. I do not want this city to dilapidate. I’m looking only to improve the city. I have what I like to call a generational contract that I feel has been violated in many years past and it’s something that my grandfather said to my dad, and my dad said to me, and I think I’m one of few in my generation that does it, and that’s promising my kids that I’m going to leave things better for them than they were for me. Having a rec center that’s dilapidated, having a pool that’s dilapidated, having a senior center that’s dilapidated is not making things better for our kids than it was for us. That’s why I think they should vote for me.”
• Final thoughts for the voters of Miami Springs: “I want to thank them for giving me their support and the opportunity to serve them. I’m honored that for four elections — and hopefully this will be the fifth — that they elect me to serve them and represent them. I consider myself a raving fan and a living, breathing billboard of our city. I like to promote all of our local businesses and services, not just in Miami Springs but out of Miami Springs. I feel that I’ve brought attention to our city, at least to our commercial area so people from the outside can come spend their money on the inside and have gotten folks to move into Miami Springs and improve the homes in Miami Springs. I’m still looking for the statistic, but I’m told that we have probably the highest rate of turnaround on homes, meaning new homeowners or current homeowners that are either, A, diminishing their homes and building brand new ones or remodeling and refurbishing their homes to bring them up to new standards. Right now it’s probably the highest rate of that occurring and I give myself and the current council a lot of credit for that.”
FERNANDO "FRED" SUCO
Fernando “Fred” Suco, 57, grew up in Minnesota, moved to Miami when he was 14 and has lived in Miami Springs for 23 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Miami and studied one semester at Cambridge University in England. After spending 26 years in the Miami-Dade Police Department, he now owns and operates Woodys West End Tavern in Miami Springs. He has a daughter, Elizabeth, 32, and a son, Anthony, 27, who is in the Coast Guard (Fred Suco served in the Coast Guard Reserves for about six years), and has three grandchildren. He has served on the Historic Preservation Board for Miami-Dade County. Former Mayor (Alex) Pinelas dedicated March 17, 2004 as Detective Fred Suco Day for his service on the board.
FERNANDO SUCO’s positions
• Why he’s running for office: “It’s very simple. I give everything I have and I’ve lived for to my parents. I was, I guess for the lack of it, a Peter Pan baby. My parents had to leave Cuba in 1960. As a nuclear family we couldn’t get out. They left me with my grandparents, my dad’s mom and dad. They came to Miami. My dad was a CPA. He had an accounting degree because his father forced him to go through school and get an education. And I got out with a friend of the family’s that was a pilot and they got me out of Cuba in 1960. My parents always taught me to do the right thing. My parents, and I give them credit, always taught me that you should get an education. Because the only thing you have in your life is your mind. I moved to Miami Springs in 1991 because this is a great community. It could be better. This city has a long history, starting with Glenn Curtiss, and I learned that very quickly when I joined the Historical Society and shortly thereafter they named me president. I fought to save the Curtiss Mansion. At that time, there was a demolition order and they said, ‘You’re the president, go save it.’ I stepped on a lot of toes, but the house got saved. It’s been restored. The project got done. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit. I’ve never asked for the credit. I’ve always given in this community and I’ve never asked for anything back. I give now. Anytime somebody asks for something from Woodys, I give. I’ve always given. And that was one thing my parents taught me. Give back. And never ask for it. I’m running because I see that we’ve run amok. This city has really gone off track. We’re spending more than what we should be spending. We’re not asking for anything from the state, grants. We can’t do it all by ourselves. It can’t happen or else our taxes are going to go through the roof. Being a business owner, I’ve realized that we do have some serious problems in this city. It’s not easy to own a business here. It’s not easy to start a business here. And unless we change our course — and I’m not saying change it totally, I’m not saying revamp the whole city, this is not what it’s about, this city is great, but we need to preserve what we have but make it a little better and make a little easier for people to open up businesses here. Look around us. Look at all the empy storefronts. That’s not good. My position is as a business owner, as someone that has 23 to 25 employees, that has to deal with a business here in town, and on top of that I also have some other properties that I’m fixing to turn around and sell, and make it a better place for someone to live here. That’s why I’m running. Because I think that my background, people say, well, you haven’t been in the city, you haven’t been in politics, you haven’t been on the board; look, the mayor of this city is a chief executive officer. The board is basically the board of directors, the council. The manager is the chief operating officer. He should be getting the instructions from the council and the CEO, which is the mayor. The buck stops with the mayor. The manager runs the day-to-day, but you as the mayor should be the leader. And it’s all about leadership. When I was in homicide, I was it. I had to go speak to the mayor. I spoke to governors because when there was a police shooting — and I remember I was the first one on the scene when (Detective) Evelyn Gort was murdered; I worked with her. And it’s really tragic when you see a person that you worked with dead on the ground because somebody tried to rob her and shot her through the heart. And that was at 2 o’clock in the morning. And I will never forget. It was up to me to solve those crimes. It was up to me to go and testify in court. It was up to me to get grilled by defense attorneys, including Roy Black, who’s supposedly one of the best there is. And you know what, he lost. And it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about doing the right thing and that’s why I’m running for mayor.”
• The biggest issue facing the city: “The biggest issue is taxes and where we’re going. They keep playing with that ‘they didn’t raise the millage rate.’ Look, you can play all the games you want. The county assesses taxes. The assessments go up and if you keep your millage rate the same, that means your taxes go up. When assessments go up, your millage rate should drop down so that your taxes are flat. Just on my house alone, from 2010 to 2014, I had a 17.7 percent increase in taxes. Now, my house is older than 50 years, so I have a depreciation built in because the house is over 50 years old. But in the same time period the county’s taxes only went up 3.5 percent. The state taxes that we pay in our property assessment on my house alone went down 8.5 percent. The school board’s went up 9.5 percent. But the city’s went up 17.7 percent. Now, I can bring in anybody and show them how their taxes went up. You can sit there and you can play games and say that the millage rate, your tax rate didn’t change. No, but if your assessment goes up because that’s controlled by the county and the millage rate stays the same, your taxes go up. We also have a crime problem. Those are the two biggest problems that we have in this city. And the crime is not because of the police department. In fact, that’s what I was. For the last four years, there was a battle going on with the police department. Actually, five years. They didn’t have a contract. They now pay because of a contract that they signed back in ’92, which has nothing to do with most of the officers that serve today, and the greatest thing about this city is that you do know your officers. And the officers do get to know you. The biggest problem we have is that they didn’t have a contract. While everybody else in this city was getting cost-of-living raises, the police officers got none. The police officers had to start giving out of their own pocket almost 17 percent. Last year they were threatened that if they didn’t sign the new contract for three years, at a 2 percent pay raise and still contributing almost 17 percent back into their retirement, which is by the way the highest in the state of Florida, that they were going to get raised to almost 30 percent. I had at least one officer who came up to me and said, ‘If it goes to 30, my take-home pay is $450. How do I feed my two children and my wife on $450 a week? I’m going to have to leave. I don’t want to leave, but I’m going to have to leave.’ Now, that lowers your morale. When they’re told that they’re not going to get equipment because how dare they protest. And that’s the general gyst. In fact, in one council meeting they were told, if you don’t like it, there’s the door, leave. You can’t do that to the morale of the police department and then expect them to want to work for you. It’s crazy. That is another issue that we have. Those are the two biggest issues.”
• The new aquatic center, and whether he’s in support of it: “Look, we go back to the same thing, taxes. We still haven’t paid off the golf course. And now we’re biting another $5 million, by the way, that we’re all funding ourselves, out of our pockets. We didn’t go out for any grants, we didn’t go out for anything. Last year alone, the biggest year ever probably at least in my memory in state history, you had the former governor going against the current governor. It was a giveaway year in the state legislature. They gave away $1.2 billion to municipalities. Virginia Gardens got $700,000. What did Miami Springs get? Zero. Nothing. Even though the lobbyist that we pay, we asked for nothing. Why? We did get $99,000, but that came from our state senator because he made a phone call and said, wait a second, I can’t look like I’m not giving anything to one of my cities. So when we ask for nothing and we’re taking on the full pool, $5 million of a pool by ourselves, it’s crazy. It’s lunacy, first of all. Second of all, they keep saying, well, we’re not funding it out of your taxes. Sure you are. They’re supposedly taking our franchise fees every year and they’re pushing over ... my calculations is the amount they’re pushing over is probably $635,000 a year that they’re going to be paying. Well, the franchise fees that we get is approximately $902,000 out of the budget, which goes into the general budget. It pays for everything. Now, that’s like you owning a house and paying $1,000 on your mortage, but out of that $1,000, $200 of it comes from your daughter, who stays in your house, she’s over 18 and she works. She pays you $200 a month. So now you take the $200 and you pay for a new pool. Well, at the end of the month you’ve still got to pay your $1,000, but you only have $800, so where’s the other $200 coming from? It’s become a game of semantics. ‘Oh, we’re not paying for it.’ Sure we are. They’re going to have to raise the money somewhere. Somewhere. And at least for the next two years it’s going to have to come from somewhere because the golf course is not paid off. Well, the lunacy is if you just shored up your current pool, why don’t we wait? Why? Because people want to get their little names on the new pool, on the new ‘aquatic center.’ That’s not right. It’s not about who gets the credit, who gets the back pat. By the way, why don’t you do things right? Then you don’t have to get a pat on the back because people know that man did the things right. Now, it’s not too late. We haven’t built it.”
• Increasing the commercial tax base, specifically the Northwest 36th Street corridor: “It’s extremely important. But have we gone out? Look, this city has not gone out to look to approach people to make things easier for people. The building department has never made it easy. I can tell you that. I deal with them. I’ve talked to a lot of people that deal with them. It hasn’t been easy. It isn’t easy. Now, when I was at the University of Miami, I worked for the downtown development authority, which is part of the City of Miami. It was a quasi-governmental agency which worked between the city and developers coming in. I learned a lot. For example, just because I own Woodys doesn’t mean people come to Woodys. I have to advertise. I have to go out and reach out and bring people in. And we have grown year after year because of that. You can’t just sit. We have the biggest economic generator in Miami-Dade County to the south of us, which is Miami International Airport, and all I’ve heard for years — I’ve lived here over 23 years — and all I keep hearing is, well, we used to be great when the airline business was here, Eastern, Pan-Am. Well, guys, the airport hasn’t shrunk. The airport is growing. We now have another economic generator that’s going to be to the west of us, which is the intermodal for the cargo. Virginia Gardens is booming. There’s two more hotels — actually, three — planned in Virginia Gardens on 36th Street. What’s planned in Miami Springs? Nothing. When have we gone out to look for businesses to come in here, hotels? We haven’t. Or we keep it a secret.”
• On whether he’s satisfied with the progress being made at the golf course: “No. We gave it away. Look, the golf course is the heart of this city. The golf course should never be destroyed. This golf course has a very, very, very long history. It was started by the founders of the City of Miami, people like (Newt) Lummus, (Carl) Fisher, (Roddey) Burdine. They were known as the ‘Coconuts.’ They came to Curtiss and wanted to build a golf course. Curtiss gave them the property. They built it, with money from Curtiss. For 25 years, the Miami Open was played there. In fact, Arnold Palmer played his first round of professional golf at that golf course. This golf course is historic. In ’55, when the City of Miami allowed blacks to play in the municipal golf course, it was the first desegregated municipal golf course in the United States. It even became a lawsuit because when the white golfers protested back then, the city then told the blacks that they could only play on Monday. They sued, it went to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida, it went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and then it came back to the Florida Supreme Court. Bottom line is this golf course has a rich history. We should never destroy it. Now, with the positive turn that Doral has taken — positive, I mean, prices have gone up. Melreese is going up. If that golf course — and our manager, Paul, has done a very good job, excellent job, on the golf side. With what he had. For lack of ... most of the golfers used to call it a goat farm. The grass was horrible. Paul, with his assistant the groundskeeper, has done a marvelous job, with what he has. But on the flip side, we gave away the food and beverage. We don’t collect any revenues on it. We pay for most of the repairs. We pay for almost everything there and the gentleman that got the contract ... well, it’s not even a contract, it’s a management agreement. Thirty days in, 30 days out. Either party can throw each other out for 30 days, without any qualms. All I keep hearing, well, we can’t give it to anybody else. We can’t do anything else with it because we have bonds. Well, that’s a flat-out lie. The bonds were paid off with a BB&T loan in 2010. They borrowed $2.6 million from BB&T. The last payment will be scheduled in February of 2018. The finance director says that they’ll probably pay it off in 2017. The bottom line is that there are no bonds. We’ve given away the food and beverage. What I’m saying is because if you have one part of your heart that’s working and the other side isn’t working for you, you can’t expect to have a perfect body. Well, the body is the golf course. Both sides should work for each other. There should be a manager on the food and beverage that has to keep the food and beverage on a positive basis so that it services ... because the bottom line is it’s service. You as a golfer come in at 7 o’clock in the morning and you can’t get breakfast, you can’t get anything to eat, you can’t get anything to drink, you’re not coming back. You’re going to go to another golf course. You have to run it as a business. Yes, unfortunately we are in the business of golf, and if you want to make money because they talk about the same thing with the pool, oh, we’re going to make money. Well, there’s no business plan. There hasn’t been one. I gave the city a business plan because the manager asked for one two years ago on the food and beverage side. Everybody said it was great. Nothing has been done. In fact, they extended him another two years, so for two years we’re not going to collect anything from the food and beverage side. It’s not right. Why are we giving away what we own with nothing back? I mean, you look at it this way, wouldn’t somebody love to have Woodys and just, here, you can have it for free. Take all the money. I’ll pay for the lights, I’ll pay for the gas, I’ll pay for the taxes. I’ll pay everything on it. You can run it. Now, the flip side to that is they also say, well, we can’t make any money. Sure, you’re never going to make money. Whatever you make on that food and beverage side is going to offset whatever your cost on the golf side and hopefully if you run it perfectly it’ll break even. And that would be a marvelous thing, instead of us pumping anywhere from $500,00 to $700,000 every year into the golf course.”
• What priorities he puts on the expansion and improvement of the senior center: “The senior center has been given a lot of grants, but it’s still old. There’s grant monies available, lots of grant monies available, to expand and better the senior center. In fact, I spoke the other day to one of our local architects who did a drawing for the senior center. Him and I have talked about it. Children and seniors are the ones that we should really, really care about the most. Not that we don’t care about the middle. But as a parent — still a parent, now a grandfather — you want your kids to have the best that’s possible. That’s what it’s all about. And when you get to your golden years ... I’m a little bit older than my opponent, 18 years, so I have a little bit more maturity. I’ve had a little bit more experience. When you get to your golden years, you deserve to take it easy. You deserve to have it easy and to be given a little bit better treatment, especially in a city that you’ve taken care of for a long time. So, yes, they deserve a better senior center. I’ve been over there; they’ve had some improvements, but they could use some more improvements. The funny part is that most of those improvements could come at no cost to us, no cost to the seniors. They’re there. They’re available. We have to get them, and the problem is that we haven’t. We talk about it. So that is one of my priorities. In fact, it was on the flyers I’ve sent out.”
• Why people should vote for him: “Very simple, I’ve got the experience. I’ve had the experience of working ... when I was president of the Historical Society, I went up and lobbied in Tallahassee. In fact, I have a proclamation from Lawton Chiles and his entire board back then to save the Mansion. And one day it will hang on the Mansion. I lobbied for the first $330,000 and received it that the Curtiss Mansion got to shore it up. I know that people sit there and scoff. No, I wrote that. I wrote the grant. I sent it to them and I went up and lobbied for it. And that is a fact. I’ve worked for this city. I may have not been out there promoting myself. I’ve always given. And I’ve given from my own pocket. It’s funny because someone said that the other day, I never promote myself. I don’t. It’s not about me. It’s about us. But why should you vote for me? Because when I take on something, and people know it, when I take on a cause, when I take on something, I give 110 percent, if not more. This city needs to wake up and move in the right direction or we’re going to be going in the wrong direction. Not that it’s going to happen tomorrow, not that it’s going to happen a year from now, not that it’s going to happen two years from now, but we’ve got to change course slightly. Do we need a new pool? Yes. Does it have to be right now? No. Does it have to be paid for by all of us? No. Do we fix the golf course? Do we sell the golf course? Selling is the wrong thing to do. We need to fix it. We need to improve it. With the improvement of a golf course, as the golf course improves, so do the property values around the golf course. When the property values around the golf course improve, the rest of the property values improve. The rest of the city starts improving. It’s our heart. So you vote for me because for 23 years I’ve been in this community. Even though I worked long hours in homicide — sometimes 72 hours straight, it was very tiring — I care. And I care about this community. I’ve been here for 23 years. I’ve spoken to the founders, people like Stadnik. John Stadnik owned the pharmacy, he’s been here a long time. He was one of my mentors when I first moved in. Mary Ann Taylor. I’ve been here. People don’t realize it. People may not know that I’ve been here. I’ve been here for 23 years. I have given of myself and now I want to lead and be a true leader and accountable. And that is my only hope is that the people realize that my experience and my tenacity will be working for them in moving this city forward in the right direction, but moving it forward. And without them having to put all of their money into this city. You don’t need to. We don’t need to. There’s other ways to get things done without having to put your own money into it. But we’re not. Why? I don’t know. We also need transparency. We’re not transparent. We need to be more transparent.”
• Final thoughts for the voters of Miami Springs: “If they give me their vote, I will always be the best that I can be. I’ve never backed down from anything. I don’t back down. People that know me know that I don’t back down. I will fight for them. I will better this community in the right way. This community has a rich history. This community needs some polishing and I will work as hard as I can for them. I never give up. That’s not in my nature. I’ve seen the worst in people. I’ve put a lot of people away for the rest of their lives. I’ve seen evil in people. I am not warm and fuzzy because of what I did for a living, but I do care. You see enough death and people killing ... I mean, I had a 3-year-old that killed his 2-year-old brother by accident with a gun. People say I’m not warm and fuzzy. Listen, guys, I’m warm and fuzzy. I’ve seen a lot in my life. I’ve done a lot. I’ve seen a lot. You can go on my website and I’ve got my full history. I don’t hide anything and all I know is that if I do get the vote from the people in this city, the residents, the people that do care, that I will work for them and I will give them 100 percent of my time.”